ARTIE SHAW WAS FREE TO DO IT ALL — Some Sounds From 1934, 1937, 1938 & 1939


From left to right: Chick Webb, Artie Shaw & Duke Ellington

For Artie Shaw it surely wasn’t “his finest orchestra”, the Rhythmakers (sic!), who nevertheless did some greatly swingin’ sides in 1937 & 1938.

No, this outfit was more or less the same orchestra which made him a rich man, a celebrity, the orchestra which paved the way for the only “King Of Clarinet” (all those over-enthusiastic hacks should have appointed great fellow clarinetists like Barney Bigard, Pee Wee Russell, Edmond Hall, or Jimmy Hamilton at least as Artie’s Side-Kings, so to speak).

Anyway, Artie was a free spirit, a true artist who couldn’t care less for what the audiences or the critics wanted (‘Three chords for beauty’s sake, one to pay the rent’ was his almost proverbial credo).

He stubbornly strived for instrumental perfection: Artie Shaw wanted to become the best jazz improvisor on this bloody black stick. — That’s all he really cared for. For him, there was no middle of the road. After all, Artie Shaw abysmally loathed the superficiality of the music business.

He looked for musical inspiration where he could find it, and that was mainly by listening to, or jamming with his great black colleagues in swing: Louis Armstrong, Lester Young (with whom he spent hours of practicing in New York hotel rooms), Jelly Roll Morton, or Count Basie (there are two brilliant, though too short pieces with the Count and the King, recorded briefly after his return from the Pacific hell in 1944; see the 2nd P.S. below).


“My man, Artie, was the only white boy who could really play the blues.”

Artie’s musical mentor was pianist, composer and rent party competitor Willie “The Lion” Smith who encouraged the struggling young clarinetist during his early days as an eventually soon sought-after sideman.

The following little playlist does not quite “say it all”, but it will tell you a lot about Artie Shaw as the inspired blues improvisor, the freely wheeling bandleader, and the swinging musical creator whose advanced melodious and rhythmical lines were supported by three of the greatest drummers of the 1930’s beside Gene Krupa:

Cliff Leeman, George Wettling, and Buddy Rich.

Well, at the time when Artie had enough of it, when he needed fresh (only musical?) air, he just stopped playing in the middle of the gig at the Café Rouge (on November 15, 1939), walked off the bandstand, and flew to Acapulco. He came back with “Frenesi” some months later. The rest is history.

By the way: The USA – as any other country – never had an “innocent soul”. — Sorry, but this is only some idealistic, romantic myth; others would call it plain propaganda.

artie_shaw-the_sideman_years_aWingy Manone All Stars

1. Never Had No Lovin’
2. I’m Alone Without You

Wingy Manone (tp) Artie Shaw (cl) Dickie Wells (tb) Bud Freeman (ts) Jelly Roll Morton (p) Frank Victor (g) Kaiser Marshall (d) – August 15, 1934. – What a line-up, huh?!

Artie Shaw & His Rhythmakers02_ArtieShaw_FreeForAll_a_LP

3. The Blues March (Part 1 & 2) – Solos: Cliff Leeman (d) Johnny Best (tp) Tony Pastor (ts) Les Burness (p) Artie Shaw (cl) Les Burness (p) George Arus (tb) Artie Shaw (cl) Les Burness (p) – August 4, 1937

4. Free Wheeling – Solos: Artie Shaw (cl) Tony Pastor (ts) Artie Shaw (cl) Les Burness (p) Artie Shaw (cl) Leo Watson (voc) – September 17, 1937.

5. Free For All – Solos: Artie Shaw (cl) Tony Pastor (ts) George Arus (tb) Johnny Best (tp) Artie Shaw (cl) Les Burness (p) Artie Shaw (cl) – October 18, 1937.

Artie-Shaw-Vol1-The-UncollectedArtie Shaw & His Orchestra

6. When I Go A-Dreamin’  – Helen Forrest, vocal.

Blog owner’s note: This would belong to the “Artie-Shaw-Dreams article” (which has to get updated with new sound); but since the jump tune came directly after, I’d decided to leave the order intact.

Quote from the liners to the pictured LP:

“This is a helluva band!” its leader and clarinet soloist proclaimed.

7. Leapin’ At The Lincoln

“Charlie Barnet recorded an original by this name. But this is the only known recording of Artie’s composition. The two-beat drummer is George Wettling.”

George Wettling (d), Jerry Gray (arr) – “Blue Room”, Lincoln Hotel, NYC, December 1, 1938.

8. Saint Louis Bluesartie_shaw_his_orchestra-the_uncollected_vol._3_-_1939

Buddy Rich (d) Buster Harding (arr) – Café Rouge, Pennsylvania Hotel, NYC, October 19, 1939.

Blog owner’s note: Listen to the spectacular clarinet run from the upper register down to the bottom and ascending again at 2:15.

Artie: “I don’t know where that came from or what it was. I never heard that from a clarinet before. It sounds like water pouring out of something. Think of how many things like that are lost because they were never recorded.”

artieshawvitaphoneshortfeb19399. What’s New? a.k.a. I’m Free  – Helen Forrest, vocal. – November 3, 1939

Side-note: Sorry, but I have to spare you “the saxophone-playing fool Tony Pastor” whose feature “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” got disrespectfully introduced like that by whomever. — The very same idiots are still running radio stations ’round the world.ArtieShaw_TheUncollected_Vol_5

ARTIE SHAW, SIDEMAN & LEADER in 1934, 1937, 1938 and 1939



For those among you who can’t get enough of Artie’s wonderful music, I proudly present all three versions of “Any Old Time” which was one of Artie’s biggest hits in 1938.

We start with the initial recording of the ballad (composed by Artie in 1930), sung here by Anita “Nita” Bradley, and accompanied by The Rhythmakers, on February 15, 1938. There is unfortunately no picture with Miss Bradley anywhere.

The next version represents the only recorded vocal with Billie Holiday and the Artie Shaw Orchestra. The stations unfortunately started to wax their broadcasts in the weeks after she’d left the band for good. — Maybe, that on some lucky day a private air check will surface?ReluctantGenius_ShawHoliday

It was on Artie’s special request that Lady Day did this track at the orchestra’s initial studio date, the fabulous “Begin-The-Beguine-Session”, for RCA-Victor on July 24, 1938 (“Back Bay Shuffle” was on the flip side).

The 3rd of the “Old Time’s” got (for my taste a bit too sweetly) delivered by Helen Forrest, audibly under the spell of Lady’s magic, on March 12 in 1939.

Georgie Auld can be heard on tenor sax.



1st P.S. — For yet more with Artie Shaw’s greatest Orchestra, namely the one from 1938 & 1939, feel free to go HERE.

Count Basie Hindsight 19442nd P.S. — Here are Oh! Lady Be Good & Bird Calls, a slightly boppin’ blues in F, featuring Artie Shaw with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1944.

The complete credits for the completists (look who’s behind the drums!):

Count Basie (ld, p), Earle Warren, James Powell, Rudy Rutherford, Eli Thompson (saxes), Ed Lewis, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Al Killian, Joe Newman (tpts), Eli Robinson, Ted Donnelly, Lou Taylor, Dicky Wells (tbns), Artie Shaw (cl), Freddie Greene (g), Rodney Richardson (b), Shadow Wilson (d).

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5 Responses to ARTIE SHAW WAS FREE TO DO IT ALL — Some Sounds From 1934, 1937, 1938 & 1939

  1. Con says:

    Like you, Sir, Artie Shaw seemed to have a black soul. That’s why he and Count were brothers.

  2. May I understand your article as a response to what Marc Myers wrote on his Jazzwax blog a few days ago?

    Good to see that I wasn’t the only one who noticed the superficiality of his Artie Shaw posting. Myers speaks of „analysis“, but then writes: „I don’t know how Shaw felt about the Rhythm Makers“ – well, lack of knowledge is a deadly sin when it comes to music writing, and certainly it all goes downhill from there. „I’d bet …“, „I don’t think …“, „I suspect …“, and so on, and so on, before he suddenly turns lyrical telling his readers that Shaw’s band „was still in awe of America’s innocent soul“. Why? Because he invented Death Metal after Pearl Harbor?

    I bet, think and suspect that Mr. Myers still has some way to go until he’s able to grasp just a faint bit of the musical genius Artie Shaw. I’d have liked to tell him directly, but sadly Mr. Myers doesn’t allow any comments at his blog. Afraid of criticism?

  3. Excellent selection of songs, great post that taught me a lot.
    Thanks, Bruno.

  4. Dusan Kovac says:

    The 1937 Artie Shaw band was very good and not as polished as his others. The rough swing was very charming. I appreciate very much that he left the strings away. The later string arrangements were a mistake in my point of view.

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